I went to observe the community service court. I followed fourteen cases, which were 'breech of probation'. My visit turned out to be educational. I learnt; there is new terminology within the criminal justice system in regards to the probation service and community service. Probation is now called 'community rehabilitation' and community service is now called 'community punishment'. Reclassifying the name from community service to community punishment and the lectures taken from this course implies to me that the government are moving towards a more punitive approach within the criminal justice system
I observed fourteen cases in regards to breech of community punishment. All defendants that appeared were represented by a solicitor of their own or a duty solicitor provided by the court. Those who came into courtroom without legal representation, were advised by the clerk to seek advise from the duty solicitor and their cases were adjourned until after they had sought advice. The defendants were representative of the population, in terms of gender and ethnicity, however I did note that the youth court had disproportionate numbers of black males, waiting and hanging around.
The proceeding of cases appeared to progress in a positive manner. The legal proceeding officer previously known as the breech of probation officer, do much the same job as a solicitor, although they are not actually solicitors. These legal proceeding officers, although prosecuting, often spoke well of the defendants highlighting good reports received before the breech of community punishment occurred. It appeared that the defendants had taken advice, however, all pleaded guilty to breech of community punishment.
This meant that the prosecution, considered this gesture and often pushed for 'continuation of order', meaning they were asking the magistrates to let the defendant continue the previous order of community punishment. The magistrate tended to agree with the prosecution and sentenced the defendant to 'continuation of order', however they also imposed fines and costs usually combined, to the amount of i?? 60. There did not appear to be any differences in sentences disposal, whether they were from a minority ethnic group, gender, or the number of appointment missed, which warranted the court visit in the first instance.
I also observed three cases that were heard in the absence of the defendants. Two had finished their community punishment before the case had reached the hearing date. The other case dealt with a defendant that hadn't attended any community rehabilitation meetings and had failed to appear which in turn lead to 'warrant for arrest'. The Court personnel consisted of three lay judges, a court clerk, legal proceeding officer, defence solicitor and a court usher. The chief lay magistrate was a middle aged white female.
The other magistrates were men, one white young to middle aged and the other an older minority ethnic male. As the proceeding of these cases were straight forward the magistrates decision made were very simple. I didn't find anything about the court unusual or surprising regards to atmosphere or public or the everyday running of the court. However, I was very encouraged by my visit. I am glad to see that the legal proceeding officers came across as human often speaking positively of the defendant and pushing for their dealing with the criminal justice system to as quick and as positive as possible.